Sunday, October 2, 2011

Days 121-126 Annapurna Base Camp (Sanctuary) Trek

Day 1 - Phedi (1,130m) to Tolka (1,700m) – We woke up early to take a cab to the start of the trek at Phedi. This was a more difficult beginning point than others because of a really long and steep climb right at the beginning! My cold wasn't helping either as it was harder to breath while ascending the mountains and I was carrying maybe 8 kilos on my back with all my supplies in my backpack... At least I was actually using my backpack for its intended use, instead of just lugging it from hotel to airport, or taxi cab to hotel.

Already Day 1, and we made a wrong turn somewhere and headed to the Australian Camp village, which wasted about 1.5 hours while we headed back to the right path. Amateurs! The weather was mostly cloudy and rainy today, which wasn't expected since other trekkers said the weather was nice when they trekked.

It wa the first time I ever saw leeches, which were really annoying to have to worry about while trekking because every 5-10 minutes, I'd look down at my sneakers to see if any of them had crawled up. I freaked out at first, but after realizing how harmless they were, I calmed down. They are sneaky bastards because they stand up on the ground in hopes that you step on them, so that they can attach to the bottom of your sneakers, and slinky their way up to the fabrics of your shoes, where they could easily sneak through and into your socks, before reaching your feet. You don't realize they have bitten you because they release some sort of anestethic on contact. They are difficult to pull off your shoe as well because they have good suction, especially some of the bigger ones. I ended up with two bites on my feet by the end of the day.

We checked into the trekking checkpoint mid-day, and I noticed that only about 600 people entered the conservation area in August. I wonder how many people would be here in October or later, when the tourist season really starts up.

We arrived at our lodge in the Tolka village after 6 hours and 10 minutes of hiking. The room only cost 50 rupees per person, which is less than 1 USD. Since it was low season, we were the only people there. Our route was Phedi (1,130m) to Dhampus to Pothana to Bhichok to Deurali to Tolka (1,700m).

Two falls. Two slips. Two leech bites.

Day 2 - Tolka (1,700m) to Chhomrong (2,170m) – We woke up at 6am to start our day early. The morning portion of the hike wa a lot better than yesterday because it was less climbing stairs and more trekking through flat lands around the mountains. We crossed some really long bridges when we reached the bottom of the valleys across rivers, which were breathtaking but also scary. I was still sick all day and blowing snot rockets every 10 minutes just to help me breathe.

Later in the day we headed up some steep steps. I don't think I'd ever sweat so much in my life, and to add to it, it was raining. In my head, I was thinking this would be the most intense workout of my life. I don't think I've ever hiked 4-6 hours for around 7-10 days straight, and I don't think I mentally prepared myself for such a workout. I really felt out of shape compared to my two trekking partners. It's funny because they cycle through mountains in Europe and run marathons and ski during the winters, yet I think I'm fit because I go hiking in the Hollywood Hills maybe 3 times a week, for about 1-2 hours... It was such a mental exercise for me, because half the time, I really didn't think I could make it to the top, especially near the end of the day, where we had to ascend 500m to get to the village where we would sleep for the night.

My legs are in pain, and my breathing is not controlled. I really need to work on that. Maybe hiking is more difficult for me because I'm carrying a greater percentage of my body weight in my backpack?

The hike lasted 4 hours and 40 minutes today. We made it to Chhomrong by around 2pm, and the lodge cost 70 rupees, again less than 1 USD!

Our route was Tolka (1,700m) to Landruk to New Bridge to Jhimudanda to Tauland to Chhomrong (2,170m).

One fall. Two slips. Two leech bites on the same spot.

Day 3 - Chhomrong (2,170m) to Himalaya (2,920m) – We made good time today and finished two days of the Lonely Planet hike in one day. It was probably the easiest day so far. The beginning was tough because we had to descend to cross a river, and then ascend back up. Afterwards, it was mostly flat, and slow climbs up with some of the best waterfall views yet. There were no leeches by the time we reached some of the higher altitudes, which was one less thing to worry about.

It is so enjoyable passing the locals along our trek because they are so friendly, with some of the biggest smiles on their faces. A lot of them think I'm Nepalese and start talking to me in their language, or assume I'm a trekking guide for Niels and Aki. It's pretty hilarious.

It rained in the middle of our hike, and I kind of panicked, but the adrenaline rush made us cover even more ground at a quicker pace. Aki and Niels helped me with some of the weight I carried in my bag since I probably overpacked and the hike was too easy for them. I am very grateful to have a walking stick with me, because it is such a valuable asset when you are tired of climbing.

Our route today was Chhomrong (2,170m) to Sinuwe, to Kuldhiga, to Bamboo, to Dobhan, to Himalaya (2,920m).

Zero falls. Two slips. Zero leech bites.

Day 4 - Himalaya (2,920m) to Annapurna Base Camp (4,130m) – The morning in Himalaya was especially cold. Our clothes don't dry so I was stuck with wet socks and wet shoes, which was a bad start since I thought I would freeze to death. I didn't pack enough socks and didn't think about these conditions. Since we were higher up the mountains, I thought I was getting altitude sickness at the beginning, but I think it was just from the cold weather and my body wasn't warmed up yet. It was a good thing that the sun started to peek through the god as we slowly made out ascent up to the base camp. You always want what you don't have and at that moment, I longed for heat and sunshine, two things I didn't like so much during the summer in Southeast Asia. During the hike today I also felt like I wanted to be at 4 places at once. I wanted to be in the moment, but also wanted to be at home, travel to Europe, and go back to SE Asia to see some of the friends I'd made along this trip so far. I guess I'm still having trouble enjoying the present to the fullest.

We were lucky since the last three days were mostly overcast and rainy, but the day we would reach the base camp was sunny and warm. Other tourists also thought I was Nepalese on our trek today, and I tested it out when I passed some of them. Niels and Aki would say “Hello” to them, and they would reply in English, but when I either nodded to them or said “Hey,” they would reply “Namaste”! Poor Niels and Aki. Everyone probably thought they wasted money by hiring a guide for this simple trek up to the base camp.

We made it to the Annapurna Base Camp in 4 hours and 20 minutes at 14:05:36 on October 22, 2011. Again, we covered two days of the Lonely Planet guide in one day. The last part of the trek up was slightly difficult because we all felt the change in the altitude, where there was less oxygen in the air, and no trees were continuing to grow at such a height.

The base camp was more crowded than I thought it would be. There were around 7 or 8 groups of people. It must get so crowded during the height of the season!

It was such a wonderful feeling to make it to the top and know that the hardest part of this trek was over. Miley Cyrus has it all wrong. It isn't about the climb. It's all about the feeling of making it to the top! I celebrated with Whiskey and a Twix chocolate bar.

Our route was Himalaya (2,920m) to Deurali to Bagar to Machhapuchhre Base Camp to Annapurna Base Camp (4,130m).

Zero falls. Zero slips. Zero leech bites. A couple blisters and bloody toes.

Day 5 - ABC (4,130m) to Sinuwe (2,360m) – We woke up early in the morning around 5am to catch the views of the Annapurna Mountains while the air wasn't too foggy. They said the best time to catch views were early in the morning and everyone was there to see if we were lucky. The views were incredible as we catched the first glimpse of sunlight at the apex of the snow-capped mountains. Pretty incredible to think how close I was to some of the tallest mountains in the world.

We contemplated staying an extra day at the top, but I think everyone just decided to head back down once we saw the mountains, as there wasn't much else to do in the area.

We wanted to cover more ground today since we were heading back down from ABC and it would be easier since we wouldn't have to be climbing up as much as before. It was easier, but still pretty tough on the calves. It was also harder to avoid slipping since we were heading down.

The other two guys were a lot faster than me, but I kept by own pace and they just met me at each respective village we stopped at. Along the way, we saw so many porters who were carrying so much heaving equipment through the mountains. The craziest ones were the porters who carried 10+foot wood planks, and huge boxes of who knows what... I think I'd quit my job if I had to carry these items up the mountains!

The weather was not as good as yesterday, so we thought we were pretty lucky to make it to the top yesterday to catch the views in the morning.

Our route was ABC (4,130m) to MBC to Deurali, to Himalaya to Dobhan to Bamboo to Kuldhiga to Sinuwe (2,360m), covering more than the ascent up yesterday.

Two slips. Two Falls. Zero leech bites.

Day 6 - Sinuwe (2,360m) to Nayapul (1,070m) – We wondered if we could make it down to the bottom today since we asked different guides whether it was possible. They said they didn't think we could, but other tourists said it was possible if we walked for 7+ hours and it didn't rain.

Again, I was trailing behind my tall European trekking buddies the whole time, arriving at each village minutes after them. My feet were really getting beaten up with my crappy Nikes, but I went at my own pace. It started to rain near the end of our hike down, but the good thing was that the last couple of hours were downhill and a steady decline.

We finally arrived at our destination, checking out at the trekking checkpoint to notify them that we arrived, 6 days earlier than anticipated. We took a local bus back to Pokhara, which was a really bad decision because we could have saved an hour by taking a taxi that would guarantee that our luggage was safe and dry from the rains. Instead, we sat at the back of a bus, with all our backpacks on the top of the bus. The whole time I was worried someone would steal something, or the bags would all get wet, or they would fall off the bus and off the mountain. I was also cold and without a jacket, and my shoes were soaked, my feet hurt, and I was starving. It was probably the worst combination and worst feeling to have at the end of a successful trek.

We made it back in town at night, and celebrated by having steaks and beer at a steakhouse. Afterwards, we had some cake and other desserts as an added bonus. Six days of trekking hard made us feel guilt-free about our gluttony for the night, and it would be a guaranteed good night's sleep.

Two slips. One fall. Zero leech bites. Hella blisters and a bloody toe.

Sinuwe (2,360m) to Chhomrong to Taulung to Ghandruk to Imle to Syali Bazar to Chimrung to Birethanti to Nayapul (1,070m)

A porter carrying wood beams up

We'd stumble across various "tour guides" who would accompany us for trips to the next villages

Leech bite

Annapurna Base Camp

The aftermath - Buy Hiking shoes!

The aftermath - Buy Hiking shoes!

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